BEING PATIENT AND TOLERANT TOWARDS THE IGNORANT AND THE ILL-MANNERED

It is a well-known fact that cultured and talented people are often the object of jealous criticism and bad manners. They are expected to be ready for possible troubles caused by mischief-makers. Correspondingly, mature believers should be ready for pains coming from the ignorant and rude; for practicing endurance for the sake of God the Almighty against the cruelties coming from people is a highly advanced and strong level of religious faith.

How nicely Rumī expresses this notion in his following lines of poetry,

“By means of its patience with the darkness of the night the moon becomes illuminated; By means of its endurance with the thorn, the rose acquires a nice fragrance and beautiful color.”[1]

Everything, good and evil, true and false, and right and wrong becomes clear by means of examples existent in our human perception. Inspired by the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the friends of God represent actual criteria and living examples for us. We should take lessons from their character traits, compare our deeds to theirs, and try to have a heart full of blessing and mercy, like their hearts. Since the friends of God are the heirs to the Prophets, they continue to practice the prophetic guidance and moral perfection for the rest of human beings. In other words, the friends of God are highly respected personalities for those who did not see the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), with respect to taking lessons from their exemplary actions. The guidance and advice coming from the tongues of the friends of God breathe new life into the hearts of others through a language of mercy and in effect these counsels spring from the prophetic instructions.

THE PATIENCE AND TOLERANCE OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD (pbuh)

One of the distinctive characteristics of the friends of God is that in response to the cruelties and pains caused by the ignorant and ill-mannered people, they react with patience and tolerance. The friends of God need to have a public life in order to teach people the right way. Like in the case of many other virtues, the best examples of this characteristic can be learned from the exemplary personality of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Prophet’s (pbuh) patience and tolerance represent the perfection of these two notions, as he suffered from many insufferable cruelties and tortures during his lifetime. In this relation the Prophet (pbuh) said, “No one has suffered in the way of God as much as I have.” (Tirmidhī, Qiyāma, 34/2472) He did not consider, however, all this suffering to be unbearable, nor did he give up from delivering his message to humanity. After all, he knew that he would seek his Lord’s approval, and as long as he would see his Lord’s consent, he would not pay too much attention to the cruelties coming from people in this perishable world. In this context the Qur’an says,

“And obey not the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and heed not their annoyances, but put your trust in God. For enough is God as a Disposer of affairs.” (33:48)

The pre-Islamic heavenly books had recorded the basic characteristics of the last prophet and mentioned that he would have an unparalleled endurance against the pains caused by his contemporaries. Zayd b. Sa‘na, a knowledgeable Jew of his own religious tradition who lived during the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) lifetime, knew from Jewish scriptures that the longtime-waited last prophet would have certain qualities. Every time Zayd would look at the Prophet (pbuh) would observe those indications on the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Before making his final decision about embracing Islam, Zayd had a question in his mind and said to himself, “I wonder if Muhammad would forgive those who treat him very badly, and whether or not his endurance and tolerance would increase in comparison with his excruciating suffering.” In this regard, Zayd put the Prophet (pbuh) in a kind of test and upon seeing closely the Prophet’s (pbuh) exceptional characteristics Zayd came to the conclusion that he was indeed in the presence of the last Prophet, and thus embraced Islam wholeheartedly. (ākim, III, 700/6547)

Not only would the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) have patience and tolerance against the cruelties coming from the unbelievers and hypocrites, he would also react with patience and tolerance to the bad manners caused by the new Muslims, who were not yet acting in accordance with the required course of actions. For those new Muslims were coming from the dessert and acting in accordance with the Bedouin culture. They would use quite uncivilized manners in addressing the Prophet (pbuh). For instance, they would repeatedly call him, “O you Muhammad, O Muhammad!” in a very impolite tone. But still the Prophet (pbuh) would respond them in very polite manners. He would never treat them disrespectfully, despite their sheer rudeness. (Muslim, Nudhur, 8; Abū Dāwūd, Aymān 21/3316; Tirmidhī, Zuhd 50; Aḥmad, IV, 239)

On one occasion, a Bedouin passed urine in the mosque of the Prophet (pbuh). The Companions caught and started reproaching the Bedouin, but the Prophet (pbuh) stopped them saying, “Leave him. Pour a bucket of water over the place where he has passed the urine. You have been sent to make things easy and not to make them difficult.” (Bukhārī, Wuū, 58, Adab, 80). Such insightful reactions of the Prophet (pbuh) led many people embrace Islam, as well as improve their level of understanding of this new religion. The Qur’an mentions this fact saying,

“So by mercy from God [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. If you had been rude and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them…” (3:159)

Even during his life in Medina when the Muslims reached a considerable level of success and power the Prophet (pbuh) did not expect an easy lifestyle. He endured all kinds of hardship in the way God the Almighty and did not seek to seize any opportunity to drop his responsibilities. One day when a Bedouin saw the Prophet (pbuh) among his Companions sitting and eating on his knees in modesty, the Bedouin found this scene very unusual and astonishing. He could not stop asking the Prophet (pbuh) about this scene and the Prophet (pbuh) replied, “God the Almighty has created me as a decent servant, not a stubborn oppressor.” (Abū Dāwūd, A‘ima, 17/3773)

As a personification of kindness and gracefulness, the Prophet (pbuh) indicated that negative human characteristics, like stubbornness and oppression, could never get along well with the personality of a believer. The Prophet’s uncle ‘Abbās (May God be well pleased with him) were not happy with the ways people would treat his nephew and suggested that the Prophet (pbuh) would have a kind of throne to sit on it and thus would have a certain distance from people and lessen their burdens on him. The Prophet (pbuh) did not find ‘Abbās’ suggestion approvable and said,

“I will continue living among them until God takes me up from them and give me eternal peace. So leave them to give me some pains.”(Ibn Ṣa’d, II, 193; Haythamī, IX, 21) In a similar fashion, the Prophet warned the believers saying, “A Muslim who lives among people and suffers from their cruelties is better than a Muslim who does not live together with them and endure their vexations.” (Tirmidhī, Qiyāma, 55/2507)

How nicely Rumī expresses this notion in his following lines of poetry,

“By means of its patience with the darkness of the night the moon becomes illuminated; By means of its endurance with the thorn, the rose acquires a nice fragrance and beautiful color.

Since they endure all kinds of cruelties coming from the unbelievers and the ignorant, the prophets all became the chosen servants of God and even victorious rulers.

If you can hold patience peacefully, it becomes a wing for you, and you can go up to the heavens. Look at Muṣṭafā [the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)]! Patience became Burāq,[1] Mi‘rāj,[2] and Sidrat al-Muntahā[3] for him and made him reach beyond the heavens as far as God.”[4]

The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) care and love for his followers in religion would make all kinds of hardship bearable for him. He would never get tired of dealing with difficulties caused by his community, nor would he complain about them, but always pray for them dearly saying, “O my community, O my community”. Accordingly, he left his personal comfort aside for the sake of his followers.

THE PATIENCE AND TOLERANCE OF THE FRIENDS OF ALLAH

Following the exemplary course of actions of the Prophets, the friends of God also do not pay too much attention to cruelties, rude behaviors, and wrongdoings coming from the people with whom they live together. The friends of God tolerate all kinds of injustice caused by their contemporaries in order to reach them and correct their bad manners, because such a strategy springs from real knowledge and gnosis. Ibrāhīm Hakki of Erzurum explains the characteristics of the friends of God in this regards saying,

“Of the practices of the friends of God are being content against calamities, patient against violence, and dignified against shocking commotions. The beginning of knowledge is forbearance; the beginning of wisdom is getting along well with people.”

Consequently, being impatient and intolerant against the troubles caused by rude people results from lack of wisdom and knowledge. Knowledgeable and insightful people act kindly and thoughtfully, while ignorant ones act rudely and inconsiderately. One of the worst kinds of ignorance is being unaware of the benevolence and kindheartedness of the religion of Islam; for good manners (adab) represent a distinctive characteristic of the religion. Rumī explains this fact such a nicely when he says, “My reason asked my heart, ‘What is faith (īmān)?’ My heart whispered into the ear of my reason, ‘Faith is all about good manners (adab)’”

In this relation there is a nice commentary by Ibn ‘Abbās (May God be well pleased with him) on the following Qur’anic verse, “Not equal are the good deed and the evil deed. Repel [evil] with that which is fairer and behold, the one between whom and you there is enmity shall be as if he were a loyal friend.” (41:34) Ibn ‘Abbās states, “The word ‘fairer (asan)’ in this verse means being patient at times of anger and forgiving at times of suffering from wrongdoings. If human beings act in accordance with this principle, God protects them and their enemies become humiliated before them, as if their enemies become their loyal friends.” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr 41/1) Similarly, Anas b. Mālik (r.a) explains the word “loyal friend (walī amīm)” in the last part of this verse as follows, “He is such a kind and thoughtful person that when somebody addresses him using bad words he responds, ‘If you are telling the truth, may God forgive me, and if you are wrong, may God forgive you.’”

In this context, the Qur’an also says, “The servants of the All-merciful are those who walk in the earth modestly and who, when the ignorant address them, say, ‘Peace!’.” (25:63) The friends of God do not pay any attention to the ignorant, nor do they go into argument with them; for the friends of God know that if they would go into argument with the ignorant, the latter, out of their selfish inclinations, would increase in their unawareness. But the friends of God do not lead the ignorant to this direction. ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (May God be well pleased with him) calls our attention to this situation and says, “Never do respond to a word said indecently, because the person who says this word has many other similar indecent words and he will use them in response to your reaction. Never do joke with the ignorant, for he will hurt your heart, because his tongue is poisonous.” Likewise, Rūmī says, “In front of the ignorant be silent, like a book. Nice person is the one who tolerates backbitings and react to the wrongdoings coming from people as if he is blind and deaf.”[5]

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exemplifies the nice character traits of the friends of God in a very reflective manner. One day he asked his Companions, “Is anyone among you incapable of being like Abū Damdam?” The Companions said, “Who is Abū Damdam?” The Prophet (pbuh) replied, “He was a member of a tribe prior to your time and would say, ‘I have forgiven all those who have insulted and backbitten me.’” (Abū Dāwūd, Adab 36/4887) How insightful is Abū Damdam’s approach to human beings! Infinite love for God the Almighty brings mercy towards His creation together. Abū Damdam does not want those who gave him pains to see the consequences of their wrongdoings to him on the Day of Judgment. On the contrary, he wants to give them comfort and hopes for them that they would have a seat under the Divine mercy.

Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī relates the following story with respect to being tolerant towards the burdens brought by people. “A wise person wrote three hundred and sixty works on wisdom (ikma) and thought that, thanks to his works, he came close to God. God the Almighty sent revelation to the prophet of that time saying, ‘Inform that person that he filled the earth with hypocrisy. I do not accept anything from his hypocrisy.’ Upon this the wise person secluded himself within a cave and started worshipping fulltime. A thought came to his mind that he was attained God’s contentment. God the Almighty once again sent revelation to the prophet saying, ‘Tell him that he will never be able to attain My contentment as long as he does not live together with people and suffer from their damages.’ Being informed about the matter, this time the wise man went to the marketplace and socialized himself through walking, eating, and drinking together with people. Then God the Almighty sent another revelation to the prophet and said, ‘Inform him that now he has attained My contentment.’” (Iyā’, II, 610-611)

Staying withdrawn into seclusion for a certain period of time is a part of Sufi training and a Sufi is expected to isolate himself from the rest of his community and from this-worldly affairs in order to improve and perfect his spiritual dimension. Sufism, however, does not promote monastic life; in effect it finds it impermissible. A Sufi is expected to live among people and serve his Lord in society, a principle phrased as “seclusion within community (halvet der-encumen)”. In other words, “unity within multiplicity (kesrette vahdet)”, meaning being with God the Almighty even within public life, is an indication for a believer’s spiritual maturity. A Sufi should physically be integrated within his community, though his heart should always be busy with his Lord. In this context, Rūmī says,

“There is not any single corner in this world free of troubles and traps.

There is no salvation, happiness, and comfort in any place other than finding the Real in the heart, seeking refuge in Him, and living in His presence.

I swear to God, he who does not realize patience properly will not be able to find any secure place in this world.”[6]

Similarly, Muhammad Iqbal symbolizes the merit of living among people and being tolerant towards the troubles made by them in the following story,

“An inexperienced and ignorant gazelle was pouring out its troubles to an experienced and wise gazelle,

‘From now on I will live in Kaaba, Ḥaram (the sacred territory where hunting is forbidden). For the hunters have laid ambush everywhere in meadows and come after us day and night. I want to feel secure from their traps and attain peace of mind.’

Listening to these the experienced and wise gazelle responds,

‘O my reasonable friend! If you want to stay alive, you should live in danger. You should keep yourself ready for everything. The level of faith becomes clear only when you face difficulties. Danger tests your strength and lets us know about the capabilities of your body and soul.’”

Another characteristic of the friends of God is that whenever they are put in a situation to choose between being an oppressor or oppressed, they willingly prefer to be oppressed. On one occasion Ṣa’d b. Abī Waqqās (May God be well pleased with him) asked the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), “O Messenger of God, if somebody would enter into my house (during the times of disorder) and threaten me with slaying, what would you advise me to do?” The Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Act like the son of Adam [Abel]!” (Tirmidhī, Fitan 29/2194) We may summarize the basic characteristic of the friends of God in this regard as follows, “For the sake of God the Almighty, one should be able to act in tolerance towards the mischief made by people.”

One of the quite telling examples of this practice was presented by Ma‘rūf Karkhī. In his own house Ma‘rūf was hosting a sick person in his deathbed and was taking care of him very well. But still, out of his pains, the sick was constantly complaining about his situation and yelling at everybody in the house. Day by day, the sick would increase the level of his complains and yells and start making the life unbearable around him for the people of the house. At the end, they could not take it anymore and started to leave the house one by one. No one stayed there other than Ma‘rūf and his wife. Without having any sleep at night, Ma‘rūf would continue taking care of the sick day and night. But one day he could not resist sleep and fall asleep very shortly. As soon as the sick saw Ma‘rūf sleeping, started yelling at him, without remembering any of Ma‘rūf’s favors for him. The sick said, “What kind of dervish you are! In fact the people like you have only names and titles, though in reality they are hypocrites. They give orders to people for God-consciousness (taqwā), but do not practice it themselves. You are one of them; eating and sleeping without paying any attention to my condition.” Ma‘rūf reacted in complete patience to the words heard from the sick, but his wife could stop herself telling Ma‘rūf that he had to get rid of the sick from the house, as he was acting quite ungratefully. But Ma‘ruf replied her with a smiling face, “O dear, why do you feel hurt from his words? It was to me he said and did all those. His outwardly bad words look always nice to me. You see that he is continually in suffering. He is not able to sleep for a second. You should also know that the real skill, affection, and mercy is acting with tolerance and understanding towards this kind of people…”

Sheikh Ṣa’dī relates the same story in his Bostān and gives the following advice,

“A heart that is full of love becomes forgiving.

If you would consist only of your body, when you die, your name would disappear with the disappearance of your body.

But if you are a benevolent and serving person, you stay alive in the hearts of people even after the departure of your body from this world.

Do not you see that there are many tombs in the city of Karkh, but none of them is like Ma‘rūf Karkhī’s with respect to being well-taken care of and full of visitors.”

Likewise Yunus Emre versifies beautifully,

“A dervish should be disinclined [towards anything];

He should keep in silence against he who curses him;

He should not use any force against he who beats him up;

He should act differently from people.”

In other words, a Sufi should assume a humble attitude towards the troubles made by people; he should react in patience and tolerance to them; he should always keep in mind that everything good and evil is coming from God the Almighty, and thus he should be able to look at Creation through the perspective of the Creator. If a Sufi acts like the common people, who react with anger and retaliation to any rudeness they face, he might be seen as he defends his own rights. But from the viewpoint of Sufism he lacks forgiving, tolerance, and endurance that are essential requirements in this religious tradition. A Sufi should always remember that everything he faces is a matter of test given by God the Almighty and thus should not be unaware of the Divine secret and wisdom behind everything he undergoes. In reality, basic human character traits like forgiving, tolerance, patience, and endurance are very important with respect to attracting God’s mercy, content, and love. From this point of view, these qualities are crucial in Sufi morality, as Rūmī puts it in words saying,

“Acting in patience against the wicked is a means of lifting an upright person’s level of spirituality;

Wherever there is a heart longing for the Real, patience loads it with favors.”[7]

Furthermore, such a morality often becomes a means of correcting the bad manners of rude people. If the rude people do not feel sorry about their mischief and correct their behaviors, then they lead themselves to self-destruction, because this time it will be God the Almighty Himself to insist on the upright people’s dues. This operation of getting their dues from the oppressors might be highly destructive for the oppressors; for sometimes it happens through the manifestation of the Divine attribute of wrath (Jalāl), an extremely painful outcome for the oppressors.

The following story explains this wisdom very nicely: In his youth Ibrahim Hakki would serve his master Ismail Fakirullah and take care of his needs. On one occasion, Ibrahim Hakki goes to the fountain to get some water. At this moment, a horseman also comes to the fountain and tells him, “Go away!” The horseman yells at Ibrahim Hakki and rides his horse to the water. When Ibrahim Hakki wants to grab his pitcher and draw himself back, the horseman rides his horse towards him and pushes him to the corner. Barely Ibrahim Hakki saves himself, but not the pitcher, which is trampled down in pieces by the feet of the horse. Ibrahim Hakki goes back to his master and tells the story with tears in his eyes. The master asks him, “Did you say anything to the horseman?” Ibrahim Hakki replies, “No! I did not tell him a single word.” The master orders him saying, “Then go there very quickly and tell the horseman a few words!” Ibrahim Hakki goes to the fountain and finds the horseman busy with his horse, but he is too well-educated and kind to tell the horseman something in response to what the horseman has done to him. When he comes back to his master, Fakirullah asks him whether or not Ibrahim Hakki was able to tell the horseman anything. But Ibrahim Hakki’s answer was negative. Once again, raising his voice, the master orders him, “I am telling you my son, go and tell a few words to this man; otherwise he will meet a huge disaster!” This time, being more firmly decided, Ibrahim Hakki goes to the fountain, but finds the horseman lying down dead on the ground; apparently the horseman was hit terribly by his own horse and killed. Ibrahim Hakki runs to his master and tells him everything he has seen. The master gets sad and says, “What a pity, a man in response to a pitcher!” Those who are with the master at the time cannot understand anything from his words and request further clarification. Then the master gives the following explanation. “The horseman oppressed Ibrahim Hakki. The oppressed, however, did not resist the oppressor even by a single word, but left the matter to God the Almighty. This situation stirred up God’s anger and He gave that punishment to the horseman. If Ibrahim Hakki had retaliated and said a few words to the horseman, the matter would have been settled evenly. Ibrahim Hakki, however, preferred to remain purely oppressed, though I tried to help resolve the issue by forcing Ibrahim Hakki to do something to the horseman, but unfortunately, I could not succeed.”

Accordingly, the friends of God who comprehend this secret insightfully might give little responses to the cruelties caused by the oppressors, because the former try to save the latter from being exposed to the Divine wrath. The friends of God do not want anybody, even the oppressors, to get punished because of something that they are a part of it.

In short, mature believers react with patience, tolerance, and endurance to the wrongdoings coming outwardly from people. They know that inwardly all such suffering comes from God Almighty, as a part of the manifestation of fate, which itself is a matter of Divine testing. Rūmī versifies this fact as follows,

“A mountain that has a little of this-worldly treasures turns into pieces by the strikes of sappers.”[8]

It is a well-known fact that cultured and talented people are often the object of jealous criticism and bad manners. They are expected to be ready for possible troubles caused by mischief-makers. Correspondingly, mature believers should be ready for pains coming from the ignorant and rude; for practicing endurance for the sake of God the Almighty against the cruelties coming from people is a highly advanced and strong level of religious faith.

May God the Almighty give us a portion of understanding, insight, subtlety, and wisdom with which He endows His sages! May He protect us from provocations caused by the rudeness and aggravations of the ignorant and ill-mannered! May He put us all together with those who live in accordance with common sense suitable to mature believers and reach His presence with a sound and pure heart!

Amin…

[1].      A traditional name of the horse, or of some kind of carrier, which carried the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for his ascension to the heavens.

[2].      The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) miraculous ascent to the heavens.

[3].      The lotus tree in the seventh heaven.

[4].      Mathnawī, V, 1408-1417

[5].      Mathnawī, IV, 774

[6].      Mathnawī, II, 591, 593

[7].      Mathnawī, VI, 2041

[8].      Mathnawī, IV, 2758